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Road Notes: Brush with the South and Dragging On

It started out "promising" (field in northern Missouri)...

It started out “promising” (field in northern Missouri)…

Last Sunday morning, I rolled out of bed at 10 A.M. and took three hours to pack and square things around the house before I left. The previous day, I had come up with a flawless plan of how I would leave around nine and get to Columbia, Missouri by four at the latest for an evening of enjoying Mizzou’s campustown. Instead, I ended up rolling into Moberly, Missouri at 8 P.M. and eating a Subway sub on my bed while watching Sunday Night Baseball.

On the hour drive from Moberly to Thompson in the morning, I realized it might have been just as efficient to have spent the night in Mexico, Missouri, from which Thompson was a much shorter drive. But I pressed on to the farm, where I met our dealer-grower. He was not able to plant until June 30, but his soybeans looked promising as they battled the weeds, coming up among the straw that was grown in the field over winter. In central Missouri, the earliest frost is usually late enough so that he will be fine.

From there, I drove down US Highway 54 toward I-70, only to pull over at a Wal-Mart in order to get an oil change that I had been putting off. I got out of my truck at the drop-off spot just outside the mechanic’s bay, but none of the three guys in the garage to came up of to help me I had to wander into the office to find someone, and if I hadn’t had to take the time to get lunch there, the stop would have been an utter waste. Do I even remember my own time-saving principals?

My extra time gone, I made haste down the interstate. The next guy I had to met lived all the way down in Braggadoccio, Missouri, fourteen miles from the Arkansas border in the Missouri Bootheel. He had an appointment the next morning, but agreed to met me that afternoon, so I bolted through the St. Louis suburbs, by the bluffs of the Mississippi, until they rolled themselves into flatter country south of Cape Girardeau. I actually did see some corn, but I didn’t notice the crop I expected, cotton. I arrived in Braggadoccio just before 5, and met our grower by the tiny post office, and an old building that turned out to be his storefront.

Flooded Rice Field

Flooded Rice Field

Much of Braggadoccio was destroyed by a tornado several years ago, but our grower rebuilt his home and farming enterprise, and now is doing very well. He farms rice as a rotation crop, as it setups up the field with the nutrients that corn and soybeans need. Rice farming involves flooding the fields, a method that wouldn’t be possible without the abundance of water the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers provide. I asked our grower to point out a cotton field to me, and it turns out, a cotton field looks just like a soybean field.

To get a jump start on the next day, I drove back north, stopping first in New Madrid, Missouri to take some pictures of the Mississippi from the town’s long river access amidst the industrial villages lining. After soaking in humid river air, I drove to Sikeston, where I spent the night.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

There were four signs of the south I noted on this trip. First, the accents. Two, the abundance of mobile homes. Three, the rice and cotton fields. Four, how horrendously friendly everyone was. And fifth, when the hostess at Ruby Tuesday’s sat me for dinner, she said “Ms. Amber will be with you in a moment.” #outofmycomfortzone

Typical?

Typical?

Tuesday morning, I got up late and drove up through a small slip of the delta and crossed the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, right by the mouth of the Ohio River near some of the flattest ground I’ve ever seen. (BTW, the mouth of the Ohio is so much grander than the mouth of the Missouri for some reason.) Cairo, like many of the mid-sized towns in Illinois, is bleak and run-down, with one too many civic buildings downtown. Mass construction (undoubtedly to spend Obama stimulus dollars) slowed the traffic on I-57 as I passed turnoffs for Louisville and Nashville, and continued toward my destination of Pana, Illinois.

After my third meal at Subway in three days (coupon) at the Salem, Illinois exit, I drove up a gritty US Highway 51 to my field north of Pana. It had some weed issues, but the stand was good. Not wanting to drive too late into the night, I headed up towards Springfield. I had to share a couple of my posts on social media, but instead of doing the easy thing and stopping at a Starbucks I knew from last year, I bypassed Springfield and decided that I would happen upon WiFi connection elsewhere. Surprisingly, my brazen spirit was rewarded at a gas station west of Jacksonville, Illinois.

I spent the night at the Super 8 in Hannibal, Missouri. Dinner was my official trip splurge-pizza and wine at an Italian brick-oven bistro. The chicken alfredo pizza satiated my craving for fine food, but the wine made me really sleepy. Nevertheless, I went for dessert at Java Jive and hung around downtown until dusk.

Wednesday, my final day passed like a dream, as I whisked across a near anonymous section of the Iowa-Missouri border, then criss-crossed across southeast Iowa until I got to our grower in Pella. This guy had actually planted his beans May in spite, and they looked healthy. I made one fatal mistake-the best time to met the grower was at 12:30, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to put off lunch. By the time I finished going over the fields at two o’clock, I was in such a fowl mood it didn’t matter. (At least I got Culver’s.)

Even though I barely stopped, the drive back to Seward seemed to get so much longer when I reached Des Moines and began driving on the section of I-80 that I drive when I go to Ames. My mind has cataloged every stop and what’s at every stop, so now it always seems tedious and unnew. But I kept pressing on, and was never more relieved to arrive at home when I rolled in just before nine.

Looks promising...

Looks promising…

 

Ferrying Across Lake Michigan on the SS Badger

On a July day in 2010, I had just finished checking fields at the Mantey’s before noon and had driven into Bay City to check online communication and decide on my next move. From my table at Brewtopia (one of the best coffeehouses ever), I examined the schedule for the SS Badger, a car ferry that I could take across Lake Michigan to the next fields I had to see in Wisconsin. It was expensive, but it would save time, city driving, and some gas (key when you drive an F-150). I booked the passage that was scheduled to leave Luddington at 8 and arrive in Manitowoc five hours later.

Rural Road on the Way

Rural Road on the Way

A delightful drive across central Michigan yielded some nice free photos and a stop in great bookstore, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find an open post office I needed. I had been to Luddington the previous year when my sister and I had taken a joyriding trip up the western Michigan coast. I got dinner at Subway and, since my truck was so close to empty, I filed it up after looping through gas stations, a decision I would come to regret.

So I rolled into a shipyard where the cars were lining up to be loaded into the Badger. I parked my car, and checked in, a remarkably easy process. We weren’t allowed to drive our vehicles on the boat nor would we be allowed access to our vehicles once they were loaded up. Upon hearing that, I jammed as much unnecessary stuff as I could into my bag before I got in line with my ticket to board, making sure I got in front of the seven Amish families who I knew would take forever.

Lighthouse with Well-Wishers

Lighthouse with Well-Wishers

Boarding a boat was universally the same as boarding a plane, only it took longer to get a ship out of port. After we passed the harbor gates, I wandered from one end of the boat to the other, photographing the sunset and taking in the beauty of dimming light on the water. Being on the boat was just like one would imagine it would have been around the turn of the previous century, the black trim, the crew, the stillness of the water. The Badger itself has been in service since the 1950’s, when it ferried railway cars across Lake Michigan before rails were built through Chicago and Gary, Indiana. Even the tracks that were used to load the cars into the ferry remain on the ship.

The five hours grew long, but there was plenty to do on board. I took my photos, watched the news down below decks (a Bernie Madoff special happened to be on), watched part of a movie, and went through the ship’s museum. In the dining room, there was a satellite map of Lake Michigan, with the Badger’s position on it. The ship was traveling at a speed of 18 MPH, or slower than a speed limit on a typical city street. It is eighty miles across Lake Michigan from Michigan to Wisconsin, and even though I was saving a lot of time (and city driving), I was still just chugging along.

Sunset against the boat

Sunset against the boat

We arrived in Manitowoc at what felt like 1 A.M. A smaller boat guided us into the landing, and huge boat awkwardly backed up to a dock that was so small, I could not see how we were going to dock on it. The water seemed to buoy us in, and they hooked us in short order. Surprisingly, there was a huge crowd waiting to make the 2:30 passage back to Michigan. I made my way down as the cars were being driven out by the employees, and thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long until my truck was pulled into one of the five diagonal stalls. When I started to back up, an employee came yelling frantically at me to pull forward instead. It was a mistake of my instincts-besides, the space to go forward was small and it was dark. Blindly, I drove up, and the turn was shorter than I expected.

The first gas station I came to had gas priced twenty cents lower than what it was when I filled up in Michigan. I could have saved at least ten bucks on a tank.

I did have the sense to pick my hotel back when I was in Bay City. Per the recommendation of the Badgers’ website, I selected the Super 8, and called ahead. I thought I would get a late-night, 20% discount, of course not realizing that they get late night passengers all the time. Two bikers guys from the ferry were checking in right after I did, and I watched Sports Center for half an hour before falling asleep.

After six hours of sleep and an hour of breakfast, I returned the road, driving past extra green woodland farms I’d passed in college that frequent the Wisconsin coast. I joined the rush hour traffic to Appleton, and curved back down on to Highway 10, toward Coloma, the site of my first field of the day. (This was my first drive through Omro a town I would come to frequent two years later.) From there, it was on to a new field west of Eau Claire, although I had to stop in Tomah to take a nap. I was exhausted at the end of that day, but it was completely worth it for the time I saved.

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